Hot Best Seller

A Sitting in St. James

Availability: Ready to download

An unmissable tour de force from three-time National Book Award finalist and Coretta Scott King Award–winning author Rita Williams-Garcia, who memorably tells the stories of one white family and the enslaved people who work for them. Essential reading for teens and adults who are grappling with our country’s history of racism. This astonishing novel about the interwoven liv An unmissable tour de force from three-time National Book Award finalist and Coretta Scott King Award–winning author Rita Williams-Garcia, who memorably tells the stories of one white family and the enslaved people who work for them. Essential reading for teens and adults who are grappling with our country’s history of racism. This astonishing novel about the interwoven lives of those bound to a plantation in antebellum America is an epic masterwork—empathetic, brutal, and entirely human. 1860, Louisiana. After serving as mistress of Le Petit Cottage for more than six decades, Madame Sylvie Guilbert has decided, in spite of her family’s indifference, to sit for a portrait. But there are other important stories to be told on the Guilbert plantation. Stories that span generations, from the big house to out in the fields, of routine horrors, secrets buried as deep as the family fortune, and the tangled bonds of descendants and enslaved.


Compare

An unmissable tour de force from three-time National Book Award finalist and Coretta Scott King Award–winning author Rita Williams-Garcia, who memorably tells the stories of one white family and the enslaved people who work for them. Essential reading for teens and adults who are grappling with our country’s history of racism. This astonishing novel about the interwoven liv An unmissable tour de force from three-time National Book Award finalist and Coretta Scott King Award–winning author Rita Williams-Garcia, who memorably tells the stories of one white family and the enslaved people who work for them. Essential reading for teens and adults who are grappling with our country’s history of racism. This astonishing novel about the interwoven lives of those bound to a plantation in antebellum America is an epic masterwork—empathetic, brutal, and entirely human. 1860, Louisiana. After serving as mistress of Le Petit Cottage for more than six decades, Madame Sylvie Guilbert has decided, in spite of her family’s indifference, to sit for a portrait. But there are other important stories to be told on the Guilbert plantation. Stories that span generations, from the big house to out in the fields, of routine horrors, secrets buried as deep as the family fortune, and the tangled bonds of descendants and enslaved.

30 review for A Sitting in St. James

  1. 5 out of 5

    Erin Kelly

    This is an incredible book. What a feat! Large cast of characters, rich historical setting, so many undercurrents relative to social, economic, racial dynamics. RWG truly takes a nuanced lens to a complex issue that isn’t as black-and-white as people like to believe. Race relations have always been complex and multilayered—both then and now—and this book explores those themes with clarity, insight, and masterful storytelling. I found myself wondering: How will this story end? How will she be able This is an incredible book. What a feat! Large cast of characters, rich historical setting, so many undercurrents relative to social, economic, racial dynamics. RWG truly takes a nuanced lens to a complex issue that isn’t as black-and-white as people like to believe. Race relations have always been complex and multilayered—both then and now—and this book explores those themes with clarity, insight, and masterful storytelling. I found myself wondering: How will this story end? How will she be able to end this story satisfactorily, knowing the limitations faced by her characters? It was a joy watching her bring us there. The ending was perfect. This is an ideal read for lovers of historical fiction.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Kelly

    This is a phenomenal historical read about a landowning white family, the mixed race children who do and do not get space in that family, the queer children who hide their truths because of family honor, and the enslaved people working for this family and the complex lives they live. It's claustrophobic in the best ways, as well as a challenging read that begs you to slow down and savor not just the story and characters, but every deliberate word choice and phrase in the prose. Jane was probably This is a phenomenal historical read about a landowning white family, the mixed race children who do and do not get space in that family, the queer children who hide their truths because of family honor, and the enslaved people working for this family and the complex lives they live. It's claustrophobic in the best ways, as well as a challenging read that begs you to slow down and savor not just the story and characters, but every deliberate word choice and phrase in the prose. Jane was probably my favorite character and even though she's there for serious, plot-necessary reasons, she's a relieving foil, bucking every "decency" and "tradition" upheld in this upper crust French Louisiana family. Marguerite had me enraptured from her first appearance on page, too, and I was so thrilled to see how her story unraveled. Williams-Garcia's book will win big accolades this year and it should. As always, I deeply encourage readers to spend time with the author's note on this one. There's so much fascinating history to learn here, particularly about Creole as an identity and culture. Williams-Garcia explains the three moments that sealed this book in her head and how she broke her promise to herself not to write a Black YA book about the Civil War era . . . and how even though this book is that, it's also not that at all.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Ramey Channell

    This is an adult book, not for children, teens, or YA. I would give it 4 stars for adults and 0 stars for teens, children, or YA. The story is set on a Louisiana plantation just prior to the Civil War. The lives of the white Guilbert family members and their enslaved "holdings" are intimately interwoven, with graphic revelations of the routine horrors of plantation life, including not only physical cruelty against Black slaves, but detailed sexual violence, rape, oral sex between a young boy and This is an adult book, not for children, teens, or YA. I would give it 4 stars for adults and 0 stars for teens, children, or YA. The story is set on a Louisiana plantation just prior to the Civil War. The lives of the white Guilbert family members and their enslaved "holdings" are intimately interwoven, with graphic revelations of the routine horrors of plantation life, including not only physical cruelty against Black slaves, but detailed sexual violence, rape, oral sex between a young boy and his adoptive father, sexual relations between two young cadets, and sexual abuse of a young Black girl at the hands of a white plantation owner. Nothing on the book cover or dust jacket intro warns of the extremely crude and disturbing sexual episodes described in stark detail.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Melanie Marshall

    Equal parts history and tantalizing hysteria, Williams-Garcia has delivered a novice and nuanced approach to the tale of American slavery asking white folks: “Who were you without enslaved people and slavery? What [emphasis added] are you without racism?” (p. 452)

  5. 5 out of 5

    Richie Partington

    Richie’s Picks: A SITTING IN ST. JAMES by Rita Williams-Garcia, HarperCollins/Quill Tree, May 2021, 480p., ISBN: 978-0-06-236729-7 “It was Byron Guilbert whose steps in life mattered. In spite of his innermost conflicts, Byron would do what was expected of him. He would marry Eugénie Duhon and assume management of Le Petit Cottage so his father could drink bourbon, gamble at racetracks, and read the old poets. Byron would produce heirs, preferably two, as neither his father nor grandfather had mu Richie’s Picks: A SITTING IN ST. JAMES by Rita Williams-Garcia, HarperCollins/Quill Tree, May 2021, 480p., ISBN: 978-0-06-236729-7 “It was Byron Guilbert whose steps in life mattered. In spite of his innermost conflicts, Byron would do what was expected of him. He would marry Eugénie Duhon and assume management of Le Petit Cottage so his father could drink bourbon, gamble at racetracks, and read the old poets. Byron would produce heirs, preferably two, as neither his father nor grandfather had much luck in producing white heirs. In time, he would hand off the plantation to the next legal son, or daughter’s husband if it came to that. He found the idea of producing legal heirs amusing. A legal heir, maybe two, would be all that he could muster, as he didn’t share his father’s or grandfather’s lust for Black women or for women of any color, for that matter.” A SITTING IN ST. JAMES is an expansive, breathtaking, masterwork of historical fiction that cuts to the quick. It’s set on a down-on-its-heels plantation outside New Orleans in 1860, the year before the Civil War began. An 80-year-old matriarch, Sylvie Bernardin de Maret Dacier Guilbert, originally from France, and her ne'er-do-well son, Lucien Guilbert--a truly despicable human being--are in charge. This page turner is a story that shows how the white slave owner class did not see slaves as human beings. A slave was an asset to be used or abused as the owners chose. This is epitomized in a stunning passage involving the Guilbert’s slave cook, Lily. She was acquired years earlier as a young person, when Lucien Guilbert took her as payment after a successful card game with his fellow plantation owners. Lily has since matured into a large, powerful woman. “Guilbert and Pierpont often traveled by barge and traded machinery, and rented each other’s bulls, stallions, and hogs for stud purposes. They could also conduct a profitable husbandry between their two-legged livestock. Lily wasn’t privy to their gentlemen’s agreement, but the master had planned some entertainment and a long-term capital investment for himself and Arne Pierpont, master of the Pierpont Plantation. When he had the overseer gather Lily up one Saturday night, Hannah feared it was to deliver her to a new home, a new plantation. She thought she had seen her queen, her adopted granddaughter for the last time. Hannah didn’t know Lily would be going down the road and on a barge across the river to Pierpont’s plantation. Lily got up on the wagon and hugged her belly. Lucien had brought two bottles of his best bourbon from his reserve to share with Pierpont. He was excited to deliver the big girl. Arne Pierpont was astounded when he saw the girl. Astonished that for a change, Lucien Guilbert hadn’t exaggerated the girl’s magnificence. Why, she could be rented to a traveling show or circus and make good money, as gawkers wouldn’t be able to look away from her unusually large parts. Pierpont turned and patted the backside of his chosen man, impressively tall and broad, of about twenty, and gave him a few words of encouragement. Master Guilbert was immediately taken by the young Black man’s size. Both men congratulated each other on the size and overall health of the couple. They further congratulated each other on their anticipated profits and agreed to meet ten months from the date to pair the two for the next litter. The gentlemen smoked their cigars, drank bourbon, and shouted instructions, mainly at the young man to ‘Go at her again.’ When the husbandry was finished, Lily was told to stay on her back with her legs up to keep the investors’ seed intact. There was much drunken jubilation between the two planters. They marveled, cackled, poked, and slapped at her as she lay on her back, legs up. When they decided that their investment had been firmly planted in ground, the drunken men, with the help of Pierpont’s man, pushed the girl up and onto the wagon. The gentlemen tipped their hats to each other, and then Lucien and the girl, Lily, were on their way.” Award-winning author Rita Williams-Garcia, a descendent of slaves, steeped herself in historical research in order to paint a painstakingly accurate picture of life on a fictional plantation. A SITTING IN ST. JAMES is written for young adults. Once the time, setting, and family history have been laid out, the story centers on the interactions of a half-dozen well-drawn adolescent characters who come together at the Guilbert plantation in the summer of 1860: Byron Guilbert is the sole heir to the plantation and to an estate in France that had belonged to Sylvie’s parents. Byron attends West Point and is gay. Robinson Pearce also attends West Point and is Byron’s secret lover. He ferries down the Mississippi to visit Byron for the latter portion of the summer, before they are due to return to the military academy. Eugénie Duhon, the daughter of another plantation owner, is Byron’s seventeen year-old fiancée. Jane Chatham is the unconventional, horse-loving daughter of Sylvie’s longtime friend. This untamed redhead comes to board with the Guilberts this summer when her widowed mother sells their plantation and emigrates to Europe. Thisbe is an adolescent slave and Sylvie's personal servant. Her principal duties include dressing and bathing Sylvie, wiping her bottom, serving as Sylvie’s snoop, and doing the kneeling when Sylvie recites a rosary. Rosalie is Byron’s paternal teen sister. Her enslaved mother is owned by the Guilberts. But she's the spitting image of her grandmother Sylvie. Rosalie has spent years boarding at a convent, where she has been well-educated and has learned to tailor clothing at a professional level. Although Rosalie is despised by Sylvie, Lucien nevertheless retrieves his nearly-white-looking daughter this summer, with the hope of marrying her off to the brilliant and free, mixed-race son of a well-off plantation owner. This is a thoroughly-engaging YA tale set in a stunning historical novel. I just can't stop thinking about these six teens. A year from now, you’ll see this book listed on any number of “best of” lists. A knee on the neck. 8 minutes and 46 seconds. How could those cops so easily murder George Floyd? This is the right book at the right time. If I were an enlightened parent or a high school American history teacher, I’d have my kids read A SITTING IN ST. JAMES. Rita Williams-Garcia exposes that society of slave owners in a way that any teen or adult will better understand the deep, ugly roots that underlie the callous disregard for Black lives that still exists in America today. Richie Partington, MLIS Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.pbworks.com https://www.facebook.com/richiespicks/ [email protected]

  6. 4 out of 5

    Alicia

    Epic. It's as sweeping as a classic like Gone with the Wind as deeply introspective on race and class as Out of Darkness, a multigenerational reckoning like Homegoing, and uniquely her own because Williams-Garcia is phenomenal in her storytelling. She has created a focused, interwoven plot with characters of various motivations with the significant elements taking place in St. James Parish, Louisiana using the history of French Creoles to tell the lesser-known stories of race, class, sexuality, Epic. It's as sweeping as a classic like Gone with the Wind as deeply introspective on race and class as Out of Darkness, a multigenerational reckoning like Homegoing, and uniquely her own because Williams-Garcia is phenomenal in her storytelling. She has created a focused, interwoven plot with characters of various motivations with the significant elements taking place in St. James Parish, Louisiana using the history of French Creoles to tell the lesser-known stories of race, class, sexuality, propriety, power, and family. While readers of YA and middle grade know Williams-Garcia's amazing stories and think this is historical fiction for YA, I'm here to say that it's written for an adult audience but there is absolutely a segment of teens who read YA who could dive into the complexities that Williams-Garcia intricately threads. This book is like The Fountains of Silence and Lovely War-- it's a niche historical fiction teen reader. But there are layers that would benefit a teen reader including visibility for queer readers from the perspective of history because of Byron and Pearce's relationship. Likewise, Jane's character was as entertaining as it was instructive that not all women fit in a box-- she certainly didn't. There were times I admit to needing to read through parts that were confusing especially with the number of characters that were introduced and their relationships but it all worked itself out (often) painfully in how they were connected. And there was just something about Madame Sylvie that pained me and her longing and life were eloquently done by Williams-Garcia. The true author's craft to allow readers inside her life and say "how dare she?" but also "how sad for her". And as the book came full circle, I can confidently say: well played, Williams-Garcia, well-played. I was most enamored with Jane and Thisbe's character and story arcs. They provided so much depth and richness. "'Is she named for anyone? Your horse?' Eugenie asked. 'Yes,' Janes said. 'She is named for herself.'" "'Madame Guilbert, pardon me, but what lesson was that?' Madame made a sound of mock exasperation. 'What lesson? What lesson? Monsieur Le Brun! I learned that art of defense, dignity, and how to laugh through it all. I have seen how enemies tried to slander and destroy the queen. Yes she maintained her dignity, stepping over insults that should not dare to touch her feet. Did she weep, kick, faint, or curse at the guillotine? No! The queen bore the suffering, the jeering, the humiliation, with such dignity. Simplicity...'" "When this is over, Mother, I won't forget who you are."

  7. 4 out of 5

    Leonard Kim

    Along with One Crazy Summer, I think this might be Williams-Garcia's best. So why not 5*? I usually delude myself into thinking I don't judge MG/YA books differently than adult books. But I do. If this were YA, I'd probably give it 5*. But for much of this, it wasn't clear to me what made this a YA book rather than an adult book, except for who the author is. And in a bigger playing field, I don't know that I could hand this to a reader of adult books and say this is a 5* book. If forced to offe Along with One Crazy Summer, I think this might be Williams-Garcia's best. So why not 5*? I usually delude myself into thinking I don't judge MG/YA books differently than adult books. But I do. If this were YA, I'd probably give it 5*. But for much of this, it wasn't clear to me what made this a YA book rather than an adult book, except for who the author is. And in a bigger playing field, I don't know that I could hand this to a reader of adult books and say this is a 5* book. If forced to offer more weak justification, I'd say the very end of this grand sprawling novel is a little rushed with all the multiple plot lines resolving in a single night (and really in a single overheard sentence.)

  8. 5 out of 5

    Alex Baugh

    Rita William-Garcia begins her epic story by giving a brief history of the land and people in what would later become the boot of Louisiana as a way to usher readers into the main part of her story, and ultimately situate them in the summer of 1860 in St. James parish on the ironically named Le Petit Cottage, home of the Guibert family and the people they enslaved. The family is headed by its French-born matriarch Madame Sylvie Bernardin de Maret Dacier Guilbert, who never tires of telling people Rita William-Garcia begins her epic story by giving a brief history of the land and people in what would later become the boot of Louisiana as a way to usher readers into the main part of her story, and ultimately situate them in the summer of 1860 in St. James parish on the ironically named Le Petit Cottage, home of the Guibert family and the people they enslaved. The family is headed by its French-born matriarch Madame Sylvie Bernardin de Maret Dacier Guilbert, who never tires of telling people about her connection to Queen Marie Antoinette and the Bernardin de Maret vineyard owned by her family. Madame Sylvie taken from France by a middle age man who forced her to marry him at the age of 13. And before you go feeling sorry for her, know this - Madame Sylvie is so enamored of Marie Antoinette, she named her personal servant, the enslaved Thisbe, a girl taken from her family at age 6 to serve Madame only, after the Queen's dog, Le Petit Cottage has been run by Madame Sylvie's son, the poetry loving, syphilitic Lucien while her grandson, Bryon, 20, is attending West Point. The plantation is losing money and could soon be in the hands of creditors as Lucien waits for his mother to give him the stash of gold she had buried long ago and which she holds over his head. Bryon is engaged to be married, but he prefers the company of men, specifically his fellow cadet Robinson Pearce. Lucien is also hoping to make a good (and profitable) marriage for his daughter Rosalie, his beautiful, educated "quadroon" daughter. Her mother is an enslaved woman that Lucien raped during one of his visits to the slave quarters where he would often go for that purpose. After learning that Lucille Pierpont "had her portrait painted and hosted a much-talked-about showing at the Pierpont plantation," Madame Sylvie, now 80, has decided this is something she must also have done, even though the Guilberts can't afford it. And after finding out that a portrait of Bryon's finance's father had been commissioned as a gift to his daughter, Madame is even more determined, and almost beside herself when she learns that the painter was Claude le Brun, a descendant of Madame Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun who had painted a portrait of Sylvie and the daughter of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette when they were children. Into this cast of the major white characters comes Eugénie Duhon, Bryon's fiancee, and Jane Chatham, the 15-year-old abandoned daughter of plantation owners who only wants to ride her warhorse, Virginia Wilder, and of course, Bryon's lover Robinson, visiting for a few weeks before they return to West Point. I kept asking myself why would Rita Williams-Garcia write a story set in the antebellum south from the point of view of white characters. After all, that makes it sound almost like you are going to read an updated version of Gone with the Wind, doesn't it? But that couldn't be further from what Williams-Garcia has actually done here. Because it is through this very flawed, very cruel, entitled family that Williams;Garcia has captured the true horror of the institution of slavery. All the while that Williams-Garcia records the ups and downs of the Guilbert family, standing in the background, quiet, invisible, abused to their white owners are the enslaved Blacks, some of whom we do get to know well. Had Williams-Garcia focused on only one enslaved character, for example Thisbe, readers wouldn't see how they are all treated and abused. By focusing on this family of enslavers, readers will "witness a brutal period in its benign and overt cruelty, to better understand its legacy of privilege and racism" and how it manifested itself on the people this family considered to be nothing more than property. I won't kid you - this is not an easy book to read, and yet one that I found hard to put down. There are moments in it when you will pump your arm and say "yes," moments when you will reach for a tissue to wipe away your tears, and moments when you will want to turn away from what you are reading. All I can say is keep reading. This is too important a book to ignore. That said, you may be surprised to discover who the real hero of this story is. And then you will think about it, and you won't be surprised at all. This book is recommended for readers age 16+

  9. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    A Sitting in St James is an powerful piece of historical fiction set on a struggling sugar plantation in Louisiana before the Civil War. A compelling but sometimes heart-wrenching tale about the atrocities of American slavery and the abominable way in which they were treated. It centres around the lives of the Guilbert family and their servants living on the La Petite Cottage plantation. There is an expansive cast of characters in this multigenerational saga, some whom whom you’ll love, others y A Sitting in St James is an powerful piece of historical fiction set on a struggling sugar plantation in Louisiana before the Civil War. A compelling but sometimes heart-wrenching tale about the atrocities of American slavery and the abominable way in which they were treated. It centres around the lives of the Guilbert family and their servants living on the La Petite Cottage plantation. There is an expansive cast of characters in this multigenerational saga, some whom whom you’ll love, others you will dislike with a passion. Even the minor characters have a huge part to play. The characters are brilliantly portrayed and the author is very clever at getting across their thoughts and feelings, sometimes with only the blink of an eye or a slight head movement indicating precisely what the person thinking or feeling. Complicated relationships are also explored the most prominent being Madame Sylvia Guilbert’s relationship with her servant, Thisbe. Thisbe is treated abominably, and there are some truly shocking and eye-opening moments. A Sitting in St James is an incredibly well researched and complex novel and I loved the way the story all unravelled in the aftermath of the party and the portrait unveiling. Before I read this I had little knowledge of Louisiana and its history and it has been fascinating and thought-provoking learning about it. Definitely one to read again as I’m sure I missed a lot of detail in the first sitting. A powerful and sweeping novel which will have you mesmerised from start to finish. Although it is advertised as a young adult novel it could be enjoyed by both YA readers and adult readers alike. It certainly won’t be the last novel I read by this author. TWISTED IN PAGES BLOG Thank you so much to the publisher for sending a review copy my way.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Rosie

    Did I read the same book y’all did? I have a lot of issues with this book. It portrays the slaveowners - e.g. Byron or Lucien - as loving, family-oriented people one second, and brutal racists the next. Because of this, I’m not sure who the story is supposed to be centered around. Makes it difficult to follow when we take a break from the struggles of the slaves to cut to some party where the person abusing the slaves before is all happy and caring. The other characters have pretty well-defined pe Did I read the same book y’all did? I have a lot of issues with this book. It portrays the slaveowners - e.g. Byron or Lucien - as loving, family-oriented people one second, and brutal racists the next. Because of this, I’m not sure who the story is supposed to be centered around. Makes it difficult to follow when we take a break from the struggles of the slaves to cut to some party where the person abusing the slaves before is all happy and caring. The other characters have pretty well-defined personalities though. Prejudiced Mme. Sylvie, flirtatious Pearce, wild Jane, delicate Eugènie. I think Mme. Sylvie should have been an example for the other Guilbert characters in that she shows affection for her family but focuses on her social standing, her hate for anyone darker than her, petty issues of the sort that lead her to rage. That sort of dimension is the kind of thing I expected to read. I did - for lack of a better word - enjoy the conflict between Sylvie and Lucien about Sylvie’s racist values and Lucien’s darker children and partners/victims. It added depth to their character where all the mulling around could not. All the action happens at the end. It feels very 00’s-movie-esque. “Character X went on to do Y, and Character A went on to do B” kind of a thing. TBH I would rather have read a full story of the epilogue. All in all this is not my favorite book nor my favorite portrayal of slavery. I know that sounds bad but hopefully y’all get the idea. I didn’t come here to read about the ins and outs of living as a dainty yet aggressively racist white man. Cover art’s beautiful though 😂

  11. 5 out of 5

    Melissa

    Thank you to NetGalley, HarperCollins Children's Books, and Quill Tree Books for a digital ARC of A Sitting in St. James in exchange for an honest review. A Sitting in St. James is incredibly well-written historical fiction - richly detailed and thoroughly researched, with a strong narrative voice that leads the reader through a somewhat meandering but necessary exploration of the particular histories of each character and the systems that trap them. The story focuses on the barely-hanging-on Le Thank you to NetGalley, HarperCollins Children's Books, and Quill Tree Books for a digital ARC of A Sitting in St. James in exchange for an honest review. A Sitting in St. James is incredibly well-written historical fiction - richly detailed and thoroughly researched, with a strong narrative voice that leads the reader through a somewhat meandering but necessary exploration of the particular histories of each character and the systems that trap them. The story focuses on the barely-hanging-on Le Petit Cottage plantation a year before the start of the American Civil War: its domineering matriarch Madame Sylvie; her lecherous and abusive son; her grandson Byron, who is as in love with the Southern "way of life" as he is his fellow West Point classmate Pearce; her un-acknowledged mixed-race granddaughter Rosalie; and most compellingly, her personal servant whom she names "Thisbe" after Marie Antoinette's dog. This is a difficult book to review - very good, but very hard to read. It is so nuanced and so effective at portraying the callous dehumanization that drove the enslavement of Black people in the Americas, and continues to echo today. I really appreciated Rita Williams-Garcia's Author's Note at the end detailing her three-pronged inspiration for this book: a daydream, a dream, and a question from a 12 year old Black boy at a panel: "Why do they hate us?" - they meaning white people. This book is her answer. It is as much about the individual characters as it is the oppressive systems they participate in and uphold. At a certain point, I was so drawn into the complexities of the characters I couldn't put the book down. I actually didn't realize it's a YA book until after I finished, partially because Madame Sylvie is such a constant and dominant force in the story, and perhaps because of the themes and maturity level. One of the more surprising characters is Jane, perhaps the original Horse Girl, who rejects the norms and expectations of her gender not as a matter of rebellion or politics but merely because they are not natural to her. I read her as possibly neurodivergent and genderqueer - though these are of course modern labels. This book is a story of stories - the story of Madame Sylvie sitting for a portrait, but the telling of it offers many more portraits. I will be thinking about them for a long time. Content warnings: racist violence, racial slurs, rape, murder, description of childhood sexual assault.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Lekeisha The Booknerd

    It's been awhile since I've read her work. This was kinda too long, but a good read. It's been awhile since I've read her work. This was kinda too long, but a good read.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Maureen

    Short version: Excellent writing, compelling characters, and a unique plot make this a must read, one of the best books of 2021 so far. Long version: This book is so rich and complex, encompassing so many stories within the larger tale. Madame Sylvie Bernardin de Maret Dacier Guilbert is the matriarch of an antebellum Louisiana plantation. Upon hearing of a portrait artist from her native France working in the area, she is determined to sit for a portrait, setting off a string of unintended conse Short version: Excellent writing, compelling characters, and a unique plot make this a must read, one of the best books of 2021 so far. Long version: This book is so rich and complex, encompassing so many stories within the larger tale. Madame Sylvie Bernardin de Maret Dacier Guilbert is the matriarch of an antebellum Louisiana plantation. Upon hearing of a portrait artist from her native France working in the area, she is determined to sit for a portrait, setting off a string of unintended consequences. Highlighting the myriad complicated relationships that existed between the big house and the quarters, and even among the family members themselves, Williams-Garcia does not shy away from the brutal treatment of enslaved people. The exhaustive research in this book is evident even without the author's note and bibliographic note, which both provide some background information on the writing of this book. Highly recommend for grades 9 and up.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kristi

    I’m conflicted about this book. I wanted to like it much more than I actually did. I did appreciate Thisbe’s story and her ending was most satisfying, but there were lots of things I didn’t like, most notably Byron and his gay storyline. It seemed like the author felt like she just needed to include any gay storyline rather than it actually having something to do with furthering the story. I did enjoy the ongoing battle between Sylvie and Lucien. Lots to be enjoyed but I didn’t love it overall. I’m conflicted about this book. I wanted to like it much more than I actually did. I did appreciate Thisbe’s story and her ending was most satisfying, but there were lots of things I didn’t like, most notably Byron and his gay storyline. It seemed like the author felt like she just needed to include any gay storyline rather than it actually having something to do with furthering the story. I did enjoy the ongoing battle between Sylvie and Lucien. Lots to be enjoyed but I didn’t love it overall. Also, it’s marketed as a YA book but I think it’s a bit mature for most YA readers. Lots of sex/assault/rape/abuse that’s a bit much

  15. 5 out of 5

    Bernadette

    Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the eARC. A very well researched exploration of both the day-to-day details and the far reaching impact of American slavery and it's impact on racism today. While difficult to read at times, this book is masterfully written and should be a must-read for anyone wishing to explore the underlying issues of hierarchical systems. Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the eARC. A very well researched exploration of both the day-to-day details and the far reaching impact of American slavery and it's impact on racism today. While difficult to read at times, this book is masterfully written and should be a must-read for anyone wishing to explore the underlying issues of hierarchical systems.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kris Mauna

    The topic of racism has always been explored in literature. In A Sitting in St. James, Rita Williams-Garcia dives deeper into where the root of racism began by creating a story centered around life on a plantation in the 1860s. In her author note, Williams-Garcia tells a story of how she was on a panel where a boy asked the question, “why do they hate us?” — meaning why do white people hate Black people? Williams-Garcia then replied to his question with, “when they see us, they don’t see human be The topic of racism has always been explored in literature. In A Sitting in St. James, Rita Williams-Garcia dives deeper into where the root of racism began by creating a story centered around life on a plantation in the 1860s. In her author note, Williams-Garcia tells a story of how she was on a panel where a boy asked the question, “why do they hate us?” — meaning why do white people hate Black people? Williams-Garcia then replied to his question with, “when they see us, they don’t see human beings”. This conversation was what prompted Williams-Garcia to explore the beginning of racism and to tell a story about slavery. Williams-Garcia also goes on to tell the reader why she wanted this story to be centered around a white family. She says the Black characters can’t speak on the reasons why slavery was seen as a necessity because they didn’t create their enslavement. So she turned to the other characters who lived on this plantation. The matriarch, her son, and her grandson. Le Petite Cottage is a struggling plantation with dark secrets. Madame Sylvie Guilbert is an 80-year-old matriarch who feels like the world owes her for the harsh life that she’s lived. She’s the product of the French royal court following the aftermath of the French Revolution. She wasn’t given many choices as to where her life would lead next so she got married at a young age to a plantation owner. She’s held on to the privilege and entitlement she had as a child and this plays a major role in who she is now. Lucien Guilbert is the son of Madame Sylvie Guilbert and he spends most of his time desperately trying to save the plantation from all of its debt. His son, Byron, is a West Point cadet who is the heir of Le Petite Cottage. This family has ugly and painful pasts that were hard to read about at times. This book honestly took me a while to get through because the lives this family lived were horrific. They are all painted as villains and monsters yet we see a glimpse of what makes them human, too. Williams-Garcia is an astounding author. I felt so many emotions while reading this story and I’m left pondering it days after I finished. She poured so much of her heart into answering that young boy’s question of “why do they hate us?” The research and history of telling this story right are prominent in each word she wrote. The Guilbert family saw Black people as property and a “thing” they were owed. The most prominent relationship in this story was between Madame Sylvie Guilbert and her servant, Thisbe. The matriarch took her from her family as a “gift” to herself. She quickly named Thisbe after Marie Antoinette’s prized pet dog. Thisbe was meant to be an extension of her body. Their relationship showcased how Madame Sylvie Guilbert saw Thisbe as non-human. She was her “pet” and would even call to Thisbe as one. There are many more aspects of this book that I could talk about but I think I’ll leave the rest for the reader to discover on their own. It’s truly a mesmerizing story and an important one. A Sitting in St. James is sure to be spoken about years from now and hopefully recommended to all readers who wish to understand the root of racism better. The target audience for this book is ages 15 and older. I would definitely recommend it to readers of that age because there are a lot of triggering topics discussed such as abuse, murder, and rape. | review originally posted on Bookstacked |

  17. 4 out of 5

    BunTheDestroyer

    I really liked this book. The writing is beautiful; reminds me of Michel Faber and James Reese. The cover drew me in and the plot is well formed. The setting is easy to picture. However, this is in NO WAY a young adult book. The main character is 80! And even if you consider Thisbe or Byron to be main characters, you dont even get to know them until midway. The characters’ inner feelings and thoughts are so distant from the reader until several chapters in. Rosalie is definitely not a main charac I really liked this book. The writing is beautiful; reminds me of Michel Faber and James Reese. The cover drew me in and the plot is well formed. The setting is easy to picture. However, this is in NO WAY a young adult book. The main character is 80! And even if you consider Thisbe or Byron to be main characters, you dont even get to know them until midway. The characters’ inner feelings and thoughts are so distant from the reader until several chapters in. Rosalie is definitely not a main character; she doesn’t appear until way later and possibly only stands in the commissary when she isnt on the main page. The book really redeems itself 60% in. You finally get to know the characters and start to relate to them. But i feel like this book should be marketed to “new adult”, like 18-35 year olds. The fact that it’s historical removes the relatability somewhat (because we dont live in the 19th c) and so caring about the characters has to come from THE CHARACTERS. There’s no way if i were reading this at 15 i’d even continue. It’s dense and there’s a lot of subtext, which is AMAZING and very intriguing for an ADULT book. I thought i’d recognized the author’s name…she wrote one crazy summer which is an actual middle grade book.

  18. 5 out of 5

    DaNae

    Taking a Break. I am not in a place to read about this much cruelty. It is hands down excellent.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Melinda

    Holy wow, this is a LOT of book, in the best possible way.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    Wow. And whoa. And WOW! At Reading Rants: http://www.readingrants.org/2021/07/0... Wow. And whoa. And WOW! At Reading Rants: http://www.readingrants.org/2021/07/0...

  21. 4 out of 5

    Becky

    Definitely a dnf for me. I made it through the first two books of this one--barely. And it's the bare in barely that is getting me. This one is SO explicit and graphic. And not in a two consenting adults way. Emphasis on consenting and adults. These days trigger warnings are commonplace--or maybe I just spend a little too much time on social media and YouTube. If a post-it note flagged every place a trigger warning was needed--for violence (like murder, beatings), for sexual assault (rape, rape Definitely a dnf for me. I made it through the first two books of this one--barely. And it's the bare in barely that is getting me. This one is SO explicit and graphic. And not in a two consenting adults way. Emphasis on consenting and adults. These days trigger warnings are commonplace--or maybe I just spend a little too much time on social media and YouTube. If a post-it note flagged every place a trigger warning was needed--for violence (like murder, beatings), for sexual assault (rape, rape of CHILDREN, inappropriate behaviors and actions with CHILDREN), then this book would use a whole pad. And it's being marketed as a book great for teens. If adults want to read about adults assaulting children--then okay, market it as being for adults. But don't say this is a book for teens and young adults. Don't pat it on the back and say HOORAY let's read about some dark, bleak things that may have happened sometimes in the past sometimes. Perhaps all the sexually graphic content just happened in book two within four or five chapters. Maybe the rest of the book completely and totally redeems the mess that came before. I haven't met all six teens that star in this book--though most have at least been mentioned. Maybe some characters aren't horrible, despicable, disgusting human beings. (And not all characters are despicable because they are rapists or sexually immoral. Maybe they're despicable because they are racist or sexist or whatever.) I rarely DNF a book. In fact, I had to create a shelf for DNF for this one book. I usually push through a book once I've invested a 100+ pages. I do. I'm stubborn. I'm committed. Even when I know a book isn't for me, I try my best to push through and finish so that I can say I FINISHED. (Sometimes I do stop a book a few chapters in and say, this isn't for me. I'm going to move on.) Perhaps some readers are more sensitive and bothered than others. Reading all the glowing five stars reviews, I do wonder if we did read the same book. The reviews don't mention the rape/assault of children...or the explicit nature of the sexual content. (Again I'm not going to target the encounters that are between consenting adults.) Disturbing scenes that enter the mind can haunt it. And these scenes are HAUNTING as you can get.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Patricia Powell

    Patricia Hruby Powell 496 words [email protected] Column #175 young adult book review News Gazette, Sunday, August 2021 Rita Williams-Garcia’s “A Sitting in St. James” (HarperCollins/Quill Tree 2021) is set in Louisiana, 1860, before Southerners believed their way of life could actually be shattered by a civil war. The story opens with a bit of Creole bayou history—a culture created by a mix of Indian, French, Spanish, and African peoples. We jump to Sylvie, a young French aristocrat Patricia Hruby Powell 496 words [email protected] Column #175 young adult book review News Gazette, Sunday, August 2021 Rita Williams-Garcia’s “A Sitting in St. James” (HarperCollins/Quill Tree 2021) is set in Louisiana, 1860, before Southerners believed their way of life could actually be shattered by a civil war. The story opens with a bit of Creole bayou history—a culture created by a mix of Indian, French, Spanish, and African peoples. We jump to Sylvie, a young French aristocratic orphan, post Revolution in Paris, 1793, who agrees to marry the under-educated but land-owning and slave-holding American, Bayard Guilbert. One page-turn later, the despicable Madame Sylvie Guilbert is now a widow, upholder of fashionable old ways, and the matriarch of a failing plantation in St. James parish, Le Petit Cottage. Think: “Gone With the Wind” (time and approximate place) meets “Twelfth Night” (love matches and sly humor) meets “Bridgerton” (sexual identities and love matches), in a world where enslaved people are not seen as human. Madame’s personal Black servant, Thisbe, named by Madame after a dog, shows the lowly experience of a house-slave (who gets no Sunday off), unable to visit her parents in the slave quarters (who do get Sunday off), who sees nothing, hears nothing, yet—actually observes everything. Madame’s middle-aged son, widower Lucien, has one living white child, Byron, who is a gay cadet on holiday-leave from West Point who has brought home his lover, cadet Pearce—an easy going Northerner who will inherit his adoptive parents’ fortune. Oh, and Lucien has a gorgeous Black enslaved daughter, Rosalie the recognized half-sister of Byron, who Lucien intends to marry off to a wealthy Black plantation owner’s son, Laurent, to save his own family plantation, Le Petit Cottage. But our Guilbert family is a bit scandalous for the upstanding Black family. See what I mean about the Shakespearean aspect? The real fun begins when Jane enters. She’s the mannish daughter of a white Creole high-society mother and English father. In today’s parlance we’d say, she was on the spectrum. Madame is tasked to educate the “impossible” girl who has been bribed to learn ladylike protocol against the threat of shooting her beloved horse, Virginia Wilder, who she rides wildly throughout the mornings. Jane shines a light on the ridiculousness of Madame’s manners and protocols and her exchanges with Madame in the hands of Williams-Garcia are uproarious. Jane is most definitely a lesbian in a time when such a thing was so scandalous (and illegal) it couldn’t be mentioned. Byron (the gay grandson) is betrothed to the lovely clever plantation neighbor, Eugenie, who is not submissive. Eugenie befriends the unique Jane, and for her part has no interest in having sex with her betrothed—after their requisite son is born. The title refers to Madame’s sitting for a portraitist, LeBrun, who is related to a famous French court portraitist, making the sitting a high prestige venture—for Madame. There is much interacting between this diverse cast—so many secrets to be discovered, with sometimes fascinating outcomes. This epic and masterfully-told tale is a must-read. Patricia Hruby Powell is the author of the award-winning Lift As You Climb; Josephine; Loving vs Virginia; and Struttin’ With Some Barbecue all signed and for sale at Jane Addams bookstore. She teaches community classes at Parkland College. talesforallages.com

  23. 4 out of 5

    Mia

    Every time I read a piece by Rita Williams-Garcia, I am awed and amazed by her strong voice and exceptional story-telling ability, and A Sitting in St. James was no different. This book felt like a period piece. It felt like Uncle Tom's Cabin or Roots or Huckleberry Finn, but it was written by a Black woman. It has the language of the time, the characters you've come to expect when talking about Antebellum south, and the gut-wrenching storyline--but with one difference. Williams-Garcia weaves th Every time I read a piece by Rita Williams-Garcia, I am awed and amazed by her strong voice and exceptional story-telling ability, and A Sitting in St. James was no different. This book felt like a period piece. It felt like Uncle Tom's Cabin or Roots or Huckleberry Finn, but it was written by a Black woman. It has the language of the time, the characters you've come to expect when talking about Antebellum south, and the gut-wrenching storyline--but with one difference. Williams-Garcia weaves this beautiful yet haunting story of Le Petit Cottage, a cane plantation, by telling stories of the White people, the Black people, AND the mixed race people. The story can be overwhelming at times because the plot moves both forwards and backwards and there are a great number of characters. But one thing remains true throughout the novel: I have never read such a poignant and intentional piece that is set during the time of enslavement. In her author's note, Williams-Garcia explained that she wanted to write this book in response to a young Black child asking her during a panel "Why do [White people] hate us?" (after seeing police and racial violence that is happening within the United States). And that little tidbit of information really brought the book together for me. Williams-Garcia could have simply humanized the enslaved Black people and villainized the White colonizers. But she didn't. Instead, she wove each and every story with emotion, challenges, and trauma--reminding us that the foundation of racism in our country is extremely complex. Highly recommend, but with caution. This book contains several illustrations of both physical and sexual violence. Each example is warranted, and I think must be told, as it represents true events that have happened in the past. In my opinion, the book would be less-than if these moments were omitted. But just read with caution dear reader. And keep in mind that, unlike a lot of other novels about enslaved peoples, (SPOILER?) the ending of this novel is mostly happy. :)

  24. 5 out of 5

    Sue

    First off, this book is a brilliant work of historical fiction. It thumbs its nose at Gone with the Wind by portraying slavery in all its cruelty and inhumanity. But it goes way further. It dares to imagine a different future for some of its characters, and I won't say more than this and spoil the ending. There are really a group of main characters besides the elderly plantation owner who is the subject of the sitting for a portrait. Madame Sylvie, daughter of a prominent French family in pre-Rev First off, this book is a brilliant work of historical fiction. It thumbs its nose at Gone with the Wind by portraying slavery in all its cruelty and inhumanity. But it goes way further. It dares to imagine a different future for some of its characters, and I won't say more than this and spoil the ending. There are really a group of main characters besides the elderly plantation owner who is the subject of the sitting for a portrait. Madame Sylvie, daughter of a prominent French family in pre-Revolution France, is 80 years old when the story begins. She was rescued from the Revolution by a planter and first brought to Haiti, and then to Louisiana by her husband, Bayard Guilbert, who has passed by the time this story begins. Her life has been a series of cruel disappointments, losing many children to miscarriages. She has one grandson, Byron, on whom she is pinning her hopes of saving their reputation and their plantation, by wedding him to Eugenie. Unfortunately, Byron is gay, a fact he goes to great lengths to hide, both because of the shame it would bring on his family, and his own love of their traditional way of life. Madame Sylvie has a granddaughter who is half-black, Rosalie, whom she does not acknowledge. And then there is Thisbe, madame's body servant, who Madame named after Marie Antionette's dog. Thisbe does her duties with ears open and eyes downcast to avoid Madame's punishments. In spite of their poverty, Madame insists on sitting for her portrait, to be commissioned from a relative of Marie Vigee Le Brun, the famous portraitist of Marie Antionette. There is so much going on in this story, so many threads, all expertly woven together by Garcia-Williams. We learn about slaves, about offspring of white owners and their slaves, about freed blacks, and about the sin of homosexuality. This story rests, though, on its examination of the lengths the white plantation owners will go to in order to preserve their way of life. Can't recommend it highly enough, but it's definitely for adults and older teens.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Becca Mee

    This book is one that is hard to review in that the way I felt about it is kind of hard to define. A SITTING IN ST. JAMES takes us into a deep dive into plantation life in South Louisiana on the eve of the Civil War as Madame Sylvie Guilbert sits for a portrait. What we see here is a story of the deep history of how racism against Black people was perpetuated by white elite dehumanizing Black slaves and treating them like chattel. It is a story that is a hard but necessary read. It isn't one fil This book is one that is hard to review in that the way I felt about it is kind of hard to define. A SITTING IN ST. JAMES takes us into a deep dive into plantation life in South Louisiana on the eve of the Civil War as Madame Sylvie Guilbert sits for a portrait. What we see here is a story of the deep history of how racism against Black people was perpetuated by white elite dehumanizing Black slaves and treating them like chattel. It is a story that is a hard but necessary read. It isn't one filled with twists or turns of plot, but it is a book that impacted me. Impeccably well-researched, Williams-Garcia takes what is a portrait sitting and exposes the ugly history of white supremacy in America that still rings true to this day and I thought it was really worthwhile. This is review is short but this is the kind of book that speaks for itself.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Laura Detrick

    I'm not sure what to say about this book. I'm glad I read it, but I don't think I'll read it again. Rita Williams-Garcia does a wonderful job with a large cast of characters to make each one unique and identifiable, and she uses each of these characters to tell the story of this plantation. We mainly experience the story through the eyes of the white family who owns the plantation, and it is primarily through their actions and thoughts that we witness the brutalities that were common in that tim I'm not sure what to say about this book. I'm glad I read it, but I don't think I'll read it again. Rita Williams-Garcia does a wonderful job with a large cast of characters to make each one unique and identifiable, and she uses each of these characters to tell the story of this plantation. We mainly experience the story through the eyes of the white family who owns the plantation, and it is primarily through their actions and thoughts that we witness the brutalities that were common in that time period. While Williams-Garcia doesn't shy away from depicting or discussing these acts, she does so in a way that feels accessible to people who may struggle to read detailed or graphic depictions of violence. This book made me uncomfortable, but not so much that I felt that I needed to stop reading. I should feel uncomfortable reading these things.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Samantha

    I was surprised to love this book. It's a hard book to read--Louisiana plantation in 1860. It traces the racist undertones through three generations of white people--Madame Sylvie, who went from France to Haiti to Le Petit Cottage, her son Lucien, and his son Byron. Madame Sylvie wants to sit for a portrait, over the objections of her family, who see the way the plantation is losing money. No one has an easy life here, but you see the way racism gets in the way of doing things over and over agai I was surprised to love this book. It's a hard book to read--Louisiana plantation in 1860. It traces the racist undertones through three generations of white people--Madame Sylvie, who went from France to Haiti to Le Petit Cottage, her son Lucien, and his son Byron. Madame Sylvie wants to sit for a portrait, over the objections of her family, who see the way the plantation is losing money. No one has an easy life here, but you see the way racism gets in the way of doing things over and over again. Also, this book deals with some tough things. Almost anything you think about slavery is in here (violence, sexual assaults, the idea of people as property.) It's just...so so good.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Kristen Majkut

    Tradition, virtue, reputation, privilege, secrets, violence, bloodlines. It's all here in 1860 on the southern sugar cane plantation of Le Petite Cottage in the parish of St. James, Louisiana, hanging by a thread and fraying by the minute. French, English, Creole - it is all spoken, depending on the company you keep and for very different economic and political reasons. Who knew that matchmaking in the 1860s was so fraught? Family dynasties hang in the balance - one misstep and financial ruin aw Tradition, virtue, reputation, privilege, secrets, violence, bloodlines. It's all here in 1860 on the southern sugar cane plantation of Le Petite Cottage in the parish of St. James, Louisiana, hanging by a thread and fraying by the minute. French, English, Creole - it is all spoken, depending on the company you keep and for very different economic and political reasons. Who knew that matchmaking in the 1860s was so fraught? Family dynasties hang in the balance - one misstep and financial ruin awaits, all on the eve of the Civil War. Rita Williams-Garcia shines in this epic tale.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Hannah

    This reminded me of Middlemarch - a southern, American Middlemarch. So much depth, so many layers are present in this book. Wonderful story telling and writing.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jenn

    Fascinating and unique story.

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...